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An article donated by Contributing Editor, Susan Humphreys

Winter Wonders

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Illinois has been hit with snow and cold unlike anything we have seen for years. I confess I have gotten used to our milder winters. But there is something special about a wet snow that clings to every bush and tree or the hoar frost that coats everything and sparkles like thousands of tiny diamonds in the early morning sun.

I just finished reading an interesting book “Winter World” by Bernd Heinrich. 1 This is a book about the different winter survival mechanisms of insects, birds,  amphibians, mammals, and even tree and fruit buds (the winter food of many birds and some mammals).

What has such a book got to do with religion, you might ask? Many things, I say.

For one thing it shows how Scientists and Atheists can be awed and amazed and find joy in Science. Walking in a winter woods and being amazed by the great variety of survival strategies can infuse those who are open to such experiences with a sense of awe and delight, a true SPIRITUAL experience, that moves the heart and expands the mind and leaves one with a sense of peace, -- that in spite of  human greed, ignorance and arrogance, Nature still holds all the cards.

Human folly or stupidity may make this world uninhabitable for our and other species in the future but as the mass extinctions in our past have shown, life retains a foothold and will come back again in great diversity to repopulate and reclaim this planet.

Many think that Scientists and Atheists don’t have Spiritual experiences. These experiences have nothing to do (at least for me, an Atheist) with concepts of God or Gods or super or supernatural beings of any kind.

Our “Spirit” is the same as our “Soul.” It is who we are as an individual. We talk about people being in “good spirits” or about a “spirited horse”. We know we don’t mean that they have been possessed by something super or supra natural. Anything that affects our health and well being (mental and physical) and gives us a sense of awe, wonder and delight can be a Spiritual experience for those that are open to such feelings.

A second reason why this book has something to do with religion is it talks about Evolution.   The author says near the end:

"... in the evolution of organisms and ecosystems there are innumerable random events of history that shape outcomes. Outcome is not preordained. There are no correcting factors or laws from above that specify the form of the ultimate outcome ..."

(Emphasis by me)

The great variety of adaptations creatures have made to survive in their environments as shown by differences within same species that are living in very different climates shows us evolution at work.

A third reason why this book has something to do with religion: In the Bible in Genesis 1:26 says:

"Then God said, 'Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground'." (New International Version)

Dominion means the right to rule over something. BUT does that right include the right to exploit for personal gain at the expense of those some things, or to the total destruction/annihilation of those things? OR does it imply a right of stewardship?

A steward is someone who manages, as in takes care of another’s property.

Some Religious people have taken the passage in Genesis as a license to use the earths resources for their personal benefit.

Some Religious people and many Atheists (like me) and Scientists believe that we are to be the Stewards of the earth. We believe that it is our moral and ethical responsibility to care for this planet.

I don’t understand how people who claim that God created everything, and who claim that they love God cannot want to learn all they can about our planet’s intricacies and how everything works in order to show their love for God by caring for and nurturing His creation as a good Steward should.

The March for Life was held in Washington recently. I wonder how many of those people are climate change deniers? How can someone claim to be “pro-Life” and not be concerned about climate change/global warming that threatens many life forms on this planet. How can someone who claims to be pro-Life not be concerned about habitat destruction, mining practices that leave toxic wastes in streams. It seems to me that IF you are really pro-Life you are concerned for all life forms.

A fourth reason? Many religious leaders and thoughtful religious writers have been aware that we, who are supposedly made in "Gods image" have responsibilities that go along with all our privileges. In his book "The Return of the King," J.R.R. Tolkien said:

"It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.' 2

You can’t leave “clean earth to till” IF you have sowed the ground with fear and hate of the “other”, the ones that aren’t just like you, OR if you have left the air and ground polluted and trashed to the point that it can no longer support life as we know it.

A book like “Winter World” 1 is a reminder that we share this planet with many other species that are dependent for their survival on the place where they are set, the north woods of Vermont and Maine or wintry forests and prairies of Illinois.  We owe them the best that is within us to insure their survival and the survival of all life on our planet (including humans) for those that come after us.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. book cover Bernd Heinrich, "Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival," Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (2009). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store It is available in Kindle, Audiobook, Hardcover, Paperback, and MP3 CD formats. Amazon.com customers have rated this book with 4.9 stars out of a maximum of five.

  2. book cover J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of the Lord of the Rings," Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store It is available in Kindle, Audiobook, Hardcover, Paperback, and Audio CD formats. Amazon.com customers have rated this book with 4.7 stars out of a maximum of five.

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Original posting: 2019-FEB
Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys
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